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Does personality matter in politics?

In the end it all came down to makeup.

Vice President Richard Nixon’s chances of winning the 1960 election began to diminish with each line of sweat that snaked down the pasty contours of his face during the Great Debates. Recorded on September 26th the presidential debate marked the first in American history and brought both candidates into the homes of an estimated 74 million viewers.

Despite being offered cosmetics Nixon stuck with Shave Stick powder, a pancake mix which masked his perpetual six o’clock shadow but provided almost no protection from the baleful spotlights whose unblinking glare lit the stage. By contrast his Democratic opponent, a relatively unknown senator by the name of John Kennedy, was made up to look brown as a nut. As the then President of CBS Frank Stanton commented  “Kennedy was bronzed beautifully . . . Nixon looked like death.”

It didn’t matter that Nixon was in many ways the superior candidate. A working class background, impeccable credentials as a Cold War ‘warrior’ or eight years of service as vice president counted for little against Kennedy’s Harvard wit and his, seeming, physical vitality. Television reduced the life of each man to little more than the sum total of their performance on stage. Nixon exuviated sickness while Kennedy embodied success. The debates subsequently propelled the young senator into the national spotlight and paved the way for a narrow Democratic win that November.

This marked a watershed in modern elections after which the personalities of the candidates seemed to be as relevant as their political agendas. Note thereafter the increasing significance of scandals to American politics; think Watergate, Iran Contra and Monica Lewinski with all the connotations of mendicity these carried for the incumbent president.

Personality remains a perennial feature of British politics to this day, with the recent general election probably being the nation’s most ‘presidential’ to date. As in the 1960 American race much of the campaigning in 2017 election focused on the personas of Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May, with their respective parties reduced to a blur.

The Tory campaign presented May as an iron surgeon whose sheer willpower would anesthetise public fears over Brexit, while Corbyn cultivated his image as a political outsider. An old hand was pitched against a new broom, the home counties against urban centres, reaction against reform. With both denied a parliamentary majority, many concluded that neither character had provide an entirely convincing pitch to their electoral ‘Dragons’.

While personality does matter perhaps the current hung parliament says more about ourselves than it does about our current political leaders.

An election is at its simplest a vote on the future and what kind of future we want it to be. However if politics are to transcend the past a new prophet is needed. As James Barber notes in The Presidential Character “The president is expected to personify our betterness in an inspiring way”. Voters therefore invest individual politicians with personalities which embody their own hopes and aspirations.

Nowhere was this more true than in 1960’s America where a young journalist named Norman Mailer attended the Democratic convention in Cleveland and managed to express the choice which faced the nation in the upcoming election. As Mailer saw it “they had chosen one young man for his mystery, for his promise that the country would grow or disintegrate by the unwilling charge he gave to the intensity of the myth, or had chosen another young man for his unstated oath that he would do all in his power to keep the myth buried and so convert the remains of Renaissance man as rapidly as possible into mass man. One might expect them to choose the enigma in preference to the deadening certainty”.

This wasn’t just a choice between Kennedy or Nixon but rather a referendum on the American dream. Would America capitalise upon the adrenaline shot of economic growth and political supremacy on the world stage? Or would the tendrils of social liberalisation be supressed, regulated and stamped out? Either way the celebrity of Kennedy and turgidity of Nixon came to personify a vision of the future for both their respective supporters and opponents. Aesthetics were important in 1960, but they largely served to confirm what Americans already believed about their candidate.

The personality which any given voter associates with a party leader is therefore a reflection of that same voter’s own worldview. As far as personality is concerned Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn could not be further apart. With a hung parliament and both leaders slugging it out in the polls we can only conclude that the future Britain imagines for itself is still very much undecided.

Jacob Rees-Mogg is no joke

When Theresa May first took over from the Tory leadership she had an air of competence and strength. Over a year and a half later and not only has she lost her majority, but many would say that she has lost her credibility too. One key Tory figure to emerge from the post-EU referendum chaos and even being spoken about as being a future leader of the party is North East Somerset MP Jacob Rees-Mogg. Although at first glance softly spoken and perhaps even strangely endearing, this article argues that Rees-Mogg’s political rise needs to be taken seriously because his deeply conservative ideology risks undoing hard-fought for progress in social justice and threatens modern day liberal values.

Much of Rees-Mogg’s appeal derives from his consistent line against the EU. Amidst the uncertainty regarding the type of deal that Britain is going to get after its exit, and the important questions regarding to what extent Britain will stay integrated with the EU and its respective bodies, Rees-Mogg continues to head the populist camp which rejects all things EU and instead champions “the will of the people”. Of course it is all too easy to spew out empty lines of “take back control” and not go into the detail of what this means, or comment on the constitutional nuances concerning the relationship between EU and UK law which evade even top legal academics, but this type of populist positioning has won Rees-Mogg notable political support. Indeed a recent poll placed Rees-Mogg as second favourite to succeed May, should she be forced out of leadership[1]. Accordingly, his significance in current political discourse should not be doubted.

However, the ascendency of Mr Rees-Mogg needs to be matched with an ample amount of caution. There are two key reasons for this. Firstly, Rees-Mogg’s old-fashioned demeanor may afford him less scrutiny and thus an easier rise up the political hierarchies. His caricature-esque personality is comparable to Boris Johnson who to too many was considered a “bit of a joke” in British politics. Yet it is Johnson who, according to the poll cited earlier, is the favourite to succeed May and moreover who now occupies one of the more senior Cabinet positions in his role as Foreign Affairs Minister. We should not have the same dismissive attitude when it comes to Rees-Mogg.

The second reason why he must be taken seriously leads to the crux of my criticism of him: his voting record and ideological beliefs reveal a man of distasteful, discriminatory and dangerous views[2]. His votes on social issues, from a socially liberal point of view, are appalling. He has consistently voted against LGBT rights and other equality measures – in fact in 2013 he even voted against making it illegal to discriminate on the basis of caste! Votes in other policy areas also show how backwards Rees-Mogg is. For instance, true to his climate skeptic self, he has voted against CO2 targets aimed at tackling climate change in regards to new homes and the UK as a whole. The rest of his voting record also illustrates a conservative ideology which places him in the hard right of the Conservative party: his votes show a desire to diminish the welfare system, to scale back on immigration and immigrant rights and demonstrates his support for bankers and big business. Indeed, it is not just his voting record that demonstrates Rees-Mogg unpalatable political views, but also his comments on other issues. For instance, in typical Rees-Mogg-style he is against abortion in all circumstances, rape included[3], and thus flouts all consideration of a woman’s right to choose on this matter.

Going forward, thus, it is important that we take Jacob Rees-Mogg seriously and see him for what he really is: a bigot.







The case for aid!

It has been a troubling week for Oxfam. An investigation by The Times has alleged stories of serious sexual misconduct committed by aid workers in Haiti including former country director Roland van Hauwermeiren.

The investigation has led to calls for taxpayer aid to Oxfam to end and the resignation of Deputy Chief Executive Penny Lawrence. Allegations continue to come to light with many corporate donors reconsidering their ties to the charity. International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt has also announced the charity is to stop bidding for Government funding. Additionally, this crisis has reopened the debate about foreign aid.

The legal commitment from the Government to spend 0.7% of national income on foreign aid has been criticised by many on the right of the Conservative Party and some national newspapers. A recent Daily Express petition headed by Jacob Rees-Mogg and delivered to 10 Downing Street called on the Government to stop the 0.7% target. Both The Sun and The Daily Telegraph have also openly questioned whether the time is now right to scrap the target. The argument is straightforward; our aid is wasted and goes to the wrong people; charity starts at home or simply we can’t afford it.

Scrapping the 0.7% target would be one response to the Oxfam crisis, but it would not be the correct one. Aid is not a perfect science. Too often the money does not get to the right people. There are many things which can be improved about how and where we deliver our aid. It is also right that Oxfam are properly investigated and are prevented from bidding for Government funding until they prove they have cleaned up their act. But, please let’s not forget the good our aid can do over the world.

If you don’t believe me, read this article from Will Quince, Conservative MP for Colchester about how aid can save lives or this defence of foreign aid by Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson. It is easy to believe the stereotypes without actually looking at the real life impact aid is having.

Any decision to scrap aid would be an insular decision and would be based firmly on the wrong arguments and the wrong conclusions. How we choose as a nation to spend our money says a lot about our priorities. Choosing to spend this money on those in need and more vulnerable than ourselves is something we should be proud of. And although it is not fashionable after this week to defend aid, it is still the right thing to do.

Gun control will not come anytime soon

The Valentine’s Day massacre in Florida was the eighteenth school shooting of the year – claiming at least 17 lives. This unsurprisingly reignited the debate of gun control in the USA, and while many see these heinous acts  as possible catalysts for gun law reform, the events of Valentine’s Day will do nothing in the form of speeding up gun-related policy.

Almost half of mass shooting cases have involved a shooter who had been ‘red-flagged’ (i.e. someone who has a history of violence or mental health problems), as was the case with Omar Mateen – the shooter responsible for the Orlando shootings in 2016. Despite the logical assumption that lethal weapons must not be easily accessible, there are only four states with restrictions on the purchase of firearms: California, Connecticut, Indiana and Washington. Apart from Indiana, the mentioned states are all within the fifteenth percentile for lowest gun-related deaths. Generally, the states with the tightest gun-purchasing restrictions have the least gun related deaths.

The above facts are not new and is common knowledge even amongst the most ardent supporters of ‘gun rights’. These people are aware of the dangers of guns but often cite the Second Amendment to the Constitution – the protection of the right to bear arms.

Republicans also echo the same arguments as most of the gun-rights ‘activists’, probably not through ideological conviction but through their reliance on National Rifle Association (NRA) donations: the anti-gun-restriction NRA donated $50.2 million to the Republican Party during the 2016 election. The Republicans in Congress will blindly oppose even the most moderate gun-control policies – as they did in February 2017 when they repealed an Obama-era executive order which ensured background checks would be taken on those wishing to purchase guns.

It is not hard to see why Republicans are so religiously against gun-control measures, as the NRA support for Congressional Republicans during elections tends to end in a victory for the Great Old Party (GOP). Of all the state races the NRA poured funds into, only the Nevada race was unsuccessful.

The resolution to gun violence in America is not just a case of debating the pros and cons of gun control but a question of fixing the crooked patronage system which benefits the mere interest group and political party, as is the case with the NRA and Republican Party. With the GOP in control of both houses in Congress, and increasing role of interest groups funding electoral campaigns, gun reform is further away than ever.

Hope for the North Korea – South Korea relationship?

The 2018 Winter Olympics have begun! Significant from a sporting perspective, yes; but quite possibly significant from a geo-political perspective as well! These games held in Pyeongchang in South Korea have taken on added value following the presence of a senior delegation from neighbouring North Korea visiting the country to celebrate the games.

The senior delegation from North Korea featured Kim Jo-jung, the sister of leader Kim Jong-un and a member of the North Korean politburo and North Korean ceremonial head of state Kim Jong-nam. This senior delegation met with South Korean President Moon Jae-In and delivered a note from Kim Jong-un inviting the South Korean leader to North Korea for talks. President Moon Jae-In has been keen to use the games as an opportunity to reopen regular talks with North Korea. Any resulting summit would be the first of its kind for over ten years.

There could be a number of reasons behind this change of mood from the North Korean leadership. Firstly, this attempt at dialogue could be motivated by the current impact of economic sanctions and the growing effect they are having on North Korea. Secondly, this could be a move to create distance between South Korea and the United States. U.S Vice-President Mike Pence has denied this will happen claiming there is “no-daylight” between US and South Korea over talks, but there could be pressure if the two allies disagree over the next steps. Thirdly, it could be a genuine attempt from North Korea to re-engage with their neighbours and to reach an agreement of some description.

Undoubtedly, this should be seen as a positive step forward. Ongoing tensions between North Korea, the United States and its neighbouring allies have dominated the world scene over the last few years. Any sign North Korea is prepared to engage with the rest of the world should be welcomed.

However, this does also need to be treated with a level of caution. This charm offensive does not change the current facts. North Korea is still regularly testing inter-ballistic missiles on a regular basis. These missiles accompanied by their threats pose a real and severe threat to neighbouring countries. Additionally, there remains little evidence about what the current strategy is within the North Korean leadership. Kim Jong-un has proved more astute than many have given him credit for him on the world stage and this could be part of a larger policy move.

Therefore, let’s tentatively welcome any dialogue but now is not the time to get over-excited. Let’s see what the next few weeks and months hold but hopefully history will go on to record as the beginning of improved relations between North Korea and the West.


Why we must avoid tax (and what to do about it)

With John McDonnell in Davos once again suggesting that business should “be ashamed[1]” of tax avoidance, it is perhaps time to reiterate why he is wrong.

We are all familiar with Friedman’s concept that the socially responsible thing for business to do is to maximise its profits[2], an idea which stems from the father of economics Adam Smith. However, this will not be the subject of this article.  John McDonnell couches his argument in moral terms, and it is on these terms that I shall reply.

I would contend that to not engage in tax avoidance is immoral and undemocratic and therefore must be avoided at all costs.

Managers of companies face a choice if there is an opportunity for tax avoidance: to pay the tax or not.  If they decide not to take the avoidance route and pay the tax, they are effectively taking the decision of what the socially responsible decision is. This is a problem, as these are not democratically elected positions. Furthermore, how are they to know what the socially optimal outcome is? It is possible, and highly likely, that a more socially optimal outcome is achievable in other ways, likely through a pursuit of shareholder value maximisation. In this case, we are effectively placing the allocation decision in the hands of a small number of unelected businessmen. How can it be just that “these public functions of taxation… be exercised by the people who happen at the moment to be in charge of particular enterprises?”[3]

The allocation decision must be placed in the hands of democratically elected officials who we can remove at the next election.  It is their job to set out the laws to define this decision.  There is no need for there to be a social responsibility question to be decided by managers. It is the government who have set the rules and the level of taxation that is payable. This is the democratic decision, for managers to do anything other than engage in all legal measures to reduce the tax bill, is to deprive parliament of its ability to decide on the agreed upon socially optimal outcome.

If we want the level of tax avoidance to fall, because for whatever reason, there has been a collective decision that the government requires more spending power, then it is the tax code that must change. It is not acceptable to expect managers to do so voluntarily as this would be undemocratic.

We currently have the longest tax code in the world and it has tripled in length since 1997.  If we want companies and individuals to pay more tax then it is this that must change.  This fact also exposes the rank hypocrisy of the Labour criticism of tax avoidance.  It was largely under their watch that we experienced this massive increase in tax regulation and so they can hardly be surprised when managers of companies and individuals take up the opportunities to minimise their tax bill.

We must, therefore, stop the endless criticism of those who engage in tax avoidance.  This practice provides us with more funds for investment, that will be invested more efficiently and reduces waste. Furthermore, it helps to preserve our democracy and helps to keep at bay the corporate state that threatens it.


[1] McDonnell, J. cited Miller, J (2018) ‘McDonnell takes aim at “big four” accountancy firms’ BBC News [online] Accessed: 26 January 2018. Available at:

[2] Friedman, M. (1970). The Social Responsibility of Business Is to Increase Its Profits. The New York Times Magazine, pp.173-178.

[3] Friedman, M (1962). Capitalism and Freedom Chicago: University of Chicago Press

Erdogan’s defining moment

Armed with fighter jets, tanks, and Syrian rebel proxies, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has opened yet another wound in Syria. Already complex, Turkish ground presence in the Kurdish-controlled enclave of Afrin threatens to push Syria’s civil war into a new phase of turmoil and bloodshed. Erdogan’s decision to send an invading force to repel YPG fighters from Turkey’s borders is enormously significant, and demonstrates exactly where Turkey’s foreign policy future lies.

Make no mistake, the addition of Turkish troops to the melee serves not only to complicate matters, but in all likelihood aggravate them too. This is not least thanks to the positioning of the United States, the most powerful ally of both Turkey and the Kurdish YPG militia, until now the most effective fighting force against Islamic State on the ground.

In light of these developments, President Trump has since been keen to downplay the American support for the YPG, though refusing to equate the YPG with the PKK, who have been engaged in a thirty-year conflict with the Turkish state. Instead, Trump urged Turkey to ‘exercise caution and to avoid any actions that might risk conflict between Turkish and American forces’. Unfortunately, it’s a little late for that.

A useful leg for Turkey to stand on here is the good working relationship with the Kurdistan Regional Government, the ruling body in northern Iraq. Though useful for any Turk wishing to dismiss allegations of systematic xenophobia against all things Kurdish, it is easy to see why such a relationship is worth maintaining for Erdogan.

As well as supplies of oil from a landlocked neighbour (what luck!), the KRG and in particular the ruling Kurdish Democratic Party provide a fantastic prop for domestic relations with Turkey’s own Kurds. Erdogan has focused much of his rapprochement efforts on the Iraqi Kurds rather than the PKK themselves, and as such one has to doubt the sincerity of such progress. It is far easier, I assume, to organise a photo shoot with Masoud Barzani than it is to fix a century of structural cruelty against 25% of your own population.

As well as the risk of upsetting his most important ally, Erdogan has laid bare the true focus of his foreign policy. In other areas Turkey has been unpredictable, with its relationships with Russia and the US springing to mind, but one focus has been consistent throughout tumultuous domestic conditions within Turkey: the opposition to any Syrian Kurdish successes.

Three years is a long time in Syria, but it was only three years ago that Turkish tanks sat on the border and watched as Kobani was put under siege by Islamic State militants for over three months. Contrast to this week, when under no immediate pressure, Turkey launched the oh-so-inappropriately-named Operation Olive Branch to clear YPG fighters from the very area they defended against Islamic State.

One thing is clear from this chaos: Turkey views the Syrian Kurdish independence movement as an existential threat to its existence. With that in mind, it perhaps seems obvious why Erdogan has chosen to mobilise against the YPG in Syria. After all, this is NATO’s second-largest army engaging with a stateless militia, and who wouldn’t take a chance on those odds with the stakes supposedly so high?

The answer to that question lies with the other players in the Middle East, most notably the United States. Just as with Iraq, the US is yet to lay out a truly workable goal for either state. In both cases, the US has been reticent to support the redrawing of boundaries, instead focusing its efforts on the type of governments that run the region. Worryingly for Erdogan, the biggest impact of Turkey’s incursion could well be the rethinking of that support.

The Madman Theory – Did Trump Scare North Korea?

It has been a fascinating transition from 2017 to 2018. At the end of 2017 we were facing the possibility of war between a nuclear-armed North Korea and the United States with Hawaii testing its nuclear attack sirens for the first time in close to three decades (Jones and Kelleher, December 2nd 2017).

In the rising tensions between the US and North Korea, it was Hawaii, that as one of the US states closest to North Korea, alongside Guam, was, if the North Koreans are to be believed, within range of their Hwasong-15 Intercontinental Ballistic Missile with its range of 8,100 miles. This placed the US Pacific Command and the Naval base at Pearl Harbour, Oahu island, Hawaii and Andersen Air Force Base and Naval Base Guam within the reach of North Korea’s missile capabilities.  (deGrandpre, 11th August, 2017; Jones and Kelleher, December 2nd 2017).

Flashforward a few weeks and we are now talking about a renewal in North-South Korean high-level talks, the first in two years, the reopening of the emergency hotline between the two nations which has been down since February 2016 and North Korean participation in the February 2018 Winter Olympics (The BBC, 9th January 2018; McCurry, 9th January 2018).

How has this shift come about? Could the US under Trump have re-awakened the classic Nixon-Kissinger “Madman Theory” in an attempt to bring North Korea to heel and create this breakthrough?

The “Madman” Theory of Leadership

The “Madman” Theory of leadership related to the foreign policy approach taken by US President Richard Nixon and his National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger. The theory was devised by Kissinger, who utilised the image of Nixon as an unpredictable and irrational President whose inclination was to exceed reasonable norms of international behaviour and who hated communism to the extent that he would use any and all forms of military threat to bring the Vietnam war to a close.   (Dumbrell, 2012 p. 108; Kimball, 1993 p. 155).

As part of the US strategy, it was argued that in order to resolve the conflict in Vietnam, the US might unleash irrational force against North Vietnam rather than utilise Soviet-Chinese diplomacy or “Vietnamisation” to resolve the conflict by forcing Hanoi to negotiate concessions (Dumbrell, 2012, p. 17, 108). The 1969 “secret” bombing of Cambodia, the Christmas Bombing of North Vietnam in 1972, the mining of North Vietnamese ports and destruction of dike systems as well as the possible use of tactical nuclear weapons and occupation of North Vietnam were part of this escalation strategy. It was argued that Nixon and Kissinger used this escalation strategy to pressure not only North Vietnam but its allies, the People’s Republic of China and the Soviet Union to move towards a peace settlement rather than risk Nixon escalating the conflict as a “madman” (LaFeber, 2008, p. 286; Dumbrell, 2012, p. 110-111).

In my opinion, the theory at its simplest level requires an actor to seek accommodation in the context of a crisis, making the other actor threaten disproportionate escalation that would result in the other side backing down as they would believe they were dealing with a “madman” and would not wish to call his/her bluff.

Could US President Donald Trump’s administration be utilising this theory of leadership against North Korea? Have we seen the coming of the Second “Madman”?

The Coming of the Second “Madman” In the Age of Digital Media

As a starting point lets make an assumption that there is a certain level of rationality within the functioning of the Trump Administration (that might appear difficult but run with it for a moment).

In my opinion, it would be fair to say, that Donald Trump’s Presidency has a reputation of unpredictability, apparent irrationality and an inclination to exceed reasonable and accepted norms of international behaviour (to put it one way) similar to that of Nixon. So, it would not be a stretch to imagine that the administration could utilise that reputation as a foreign policy tool. In the age of digital media and social media platforms like Twitter, it is far easier, I would argue, for the image of an unpredictable and irrational President to be spread across the world, applying pressure on multiple targets at once whilst carrying the weight of the President’s personal desires, particularly when that image is being communicated from the President’s own Twitter account.

Both before and after being elected President, Donald Trump widely utilised social media as a political tool both in terms of communicating domestic and foreign policy. Through the use of Twitter, Trump has made the Presidency far more personal than ever before, with Twitter becoming a “window not only into his thoughts and psyche, but into the kind of messages he wants to communicate” (Buncombe, 19th January 2018).

Trump joked about his “Nuclear button” being bigger, more powerful and more usable than that of North Korea’s Ki Jung-Un, having previously referred to the North Korean leader as a “little rocket man” and that the North Korean regime would not be “around much longer” (Gambino, 3rd January 2018: Allen, 24th September 2017). Such rhetoric I would argue has been used by Trump to communicate a message to the North Korean regime in terms not seen before: backdown because I’m prepared to go all the way.

In my opinion, such tweets in coordination with other speeches by Trump have been designed to demonstrate, in the context of the crisis over North Korea’s nuclear programme, that the President is unpredictable, irrational, inclined to exceed reasonable norms of international behaviour and happy to use any and all forms of military threat (in theory though with no practical examples on the ground) against North Korea. The options for the North Korean regime were simple: backdown and allow the situation to de-escalate or face the overwhelming power of the United States who is prepared to escalate the crisis, something which North Korea’s ally, the People’s Republic of China did not desire and would likely have advised the North Koreans against. Arguably North Korea chose the former and decided not to call Trump’s bluff quite possibly because they may have got the message (real or unreal) that there was no bluff.

So have we seen the resurrection of the “Madman” Theory of Leadership in US foreign policy? Maybe but the answer to that question really depends on whether you think Trump is a President pretending to be a “madman” or a “madman” pretending to be a President.


Allen, Julie, the Telegraph (24th September 2017), “Donald Trump warns Kim Jong-un ‘won’t be around much longer`” available at: [Accessed on the 19th January 2018]

Buncombe, Andrew, The Independent (18th January 2018) “Donald Trump one year on: How the Twitter President changed social media and the country’s top office” available at [Accessed on 19th January 2018)

deGrandpre, Andrew, The Washington Post (August 11th, 2017), “Guam Released Guidance to Prepare Residents for North Korean Nuclear Strike” available at: [Accessed on 9th January 2018]

Dumbrell, John (2012), Rethinking the Vietnam War (Palgrave Macmillan: Basingstoke)

Gabino, Lauren, The Guardian (3rd January 2018), “Donald Trump boasts that his nuclear button is bigger than Kin Jong-uns” available at [Accessed on the 19th January 2018]

Jones, Caleb and Kelleher, Jennifer Sinco, The Independent (December 2nd 2017), “Hawaii sounds nuclear warning sirens for first time since 1980s” available at: [Accessed on 9th January 2018]

Kimball, Jeffery P., “Peace with Honor”, Richard Nixon and the Diplomacy of Threat and Symbolism”, in Anderson, David. (1993) ed. Shadow on the White House: Presidents and the Vietnam War, 1945-75 (University Press of Kansas: Lawerence) pp. 152-183

LaFeber, Walter, (2008), “A New Containment: The Rise and Fall of Détente” in America, Russia and the Cold War, 1945-2006, Tenth Edition (McGraw-Hill: New York), pp. 266-298.

McCurry, Justin, The Guardian (9th January 2018), “North Korea agrees to send athletes to Winter Olympics after talks with South” available at: [Accessed 9th January 2018]

The BBC, (9th January 2018), “North Korea to send team to Winter Olympic Games” available at: [Accessed on 9th January 2018]



This year’s award season for actors and actresses has been dominated by the scandal of sexual abuse in Hollywood. Notably at the Golden Globe Awards multiple actors and actresses chose to wear black in order to show their support for the ‘Times Up” movement. Whilst movements of solidarity against sexual harassment should of course be supported, this article serves as a reminder that if true progress is to be made, engagement with such issues needs to go beyond a hashtag or the wearing of black. The article also looks at what can be done in order to tackle the issue of sexual harassment, specifically in the workplace.

On the 5th October last year the New York Times published a story that revealed decades of allegations of sexual harassment against the famous American film producer Harvey Weinstein. This scandal has shone a light on the issue of sexual harassment not just in Hollywood, but in the workplace in general. Everyone agrees that something must be done about this toxic culture that allows sexual abusers to remain in positions of power within their respective fields, and campaigns that show support for those who have suffered abuse are certainly a step in the right direction. Moreover, the fact that this show of solidarity has allowed women to feel like they can come forward demonstrates the power that such campaigns can have. Maybe the Weinstein revelations mark a turning point? Take the example of Dylan Farrow, the adopted daughter of Woody Allen. This month Farrow gave a TV interview detailing the abuse that she has suffered at the hands of Allen. Her allegations have prompted a wave of solidarity. For example, following the interview actress Rebecca Hall apologised for her role in Allen’s new film and said that she will donate her wages to the Times Up campaign. However, this episode also reveals a key problem. It should be remembered that this is not the first time that Farrow has gone public in accusing her father of sexual assault; in 2014 she spoke about this abuse yet there was no celebrity outcry. Obviously the political environment then meant that actors did not feel secure enough to react against the allegations. Without trying to belittle the influence of power play, the changing reactions to Dylan Farrow serve to remind us that it is important that we are all brave enough to shun the perpetrators of sexual abuse. Only with this courage and lack of passivity will there be progress post-Weinstein.

The recent scandal in Hollywood reflects a wider trend that sees men (who dominate the hierarchies of the working world) exploit their position of power to harass women. Indeed according to a BBC survey last year, half of British woman have been sexually harassed at work or a place of study.[1] From a domestic policy perspective, therefore, a pressing issue for the UK government is what can be done in order to tackle this. Crucially we need to re-dress the gender balance in positions of power. This task should not be underestimated and will only be achieved when we, amongst other things, stop gender stereotyping from a young age. In the mean time we need to continue to fight against sexual harassment so that it remains a talking point long after the Hollywood scandal ceases to make news headlines. We also need to create an atmosphere where women feel safe speaking out. On this last point it should be noted that we must also ensure adequate protection for those accused of sexual harassment and perhaps the question of anonymity for the accused needs to be re-looked at; this is a difficult issue but especially pressing in light of the recent multiple collapsed rape trials. However, ultimately we need to progress to a stage where the perpetrators of sexual abuse are called out by their colleagues and thus the onus is not on the victims to reveal such scandalous and endemic behaviour.







Jo Johnson, the Minister for Universities and Science, recently announced that from next April the “Office for Students” (a new university regulator) will be able to fine universities that fail to uphold free speech. This announcement follows the National Student Union’s no-platform policy and several related controversial incidents, for instance Canterbury Christ Church University’s decision to no-platform LGBT activist Peter Tatchell. Although I do not personally agree with all the decisions to no-platform speakers that have been taken by universities (indeed I would strongly question the decision regarding Peter Tatchell) this article does seek to offer a defence of “no-platforming” by showing that there is a degree of nuance to this debate.

Firstly, it is worth starting by noting that the notion of absolute free speech is a fallacy. Hate speech laws are found in several statutes in UK law – for instance s18 of the Public Order Act 1986 prohibits expressions of racial hatred – and this represents a clear example of when free speech is curtailed. Admittedly, however, this, as opposed to the no platform movement, is uncontroversial. A point that more directly supports this movement relates to the importance of inclusivity in debate. In everyday society it is easiest for those in power to get their voice heard. This is typically white, middle class men – Jo Johnson and his spearheading of university policy is a case in point of this. In other words, free speech in everyday life is reserved for those who have access to this and thus those that have a platform. In order to combat this, it is important that institutions provide an atmosphere where individuals from all parts of society – notably minority groups – feel comfortable using their experiences in order to add to the debate. From this point of view no platforming of voices that discourage minority groups – that already face so much oppression – is valid because it encourages a more open culture which allows all voices to engage, not just those that are accustomed to being able to dominate the current discourse.

Another important point is that a distinction needs to be made between someone being invited to speak in order to draw crowds and for the sake of being controversial, and someone who is actively contributing to the debate. A figure such as Katie Hopkins will most likely never change her mind and is not speaking in order to hear other opinions. She is, at least many would argue, only interested in being controversial in order to bolster her brand and employability. From this perspective no platforming Katie Hopkins is legitimate. Moreover, it is not as if no platforming a figure like Katie Hopkins is leading to the censorship of her; she has many other avenues that she can pursue in order to air her views. Another important distinction is the difference between free speech and free debate. I would argue that if a university wants to invite a controversial speaker, the responsible thing to do is to make sure that this speaker is matched with someone who presents a different view so that he/she can be directly challenged. This is often a more satisfactory solution than no platforming because it allows opposing views to be heard, however it also ensures that such views can be effectively challenged so that there is healthy debate – not controversy for the sake of controversy.

In any case, the policy of fining universities for “free speech breaches” is questionable. It does seem somewhat paradoxical to force a university to uphold what is seen as a freedom. Instead of such coercive measures the government should seek to win the argument regarding university speaker policy through the art of persuasion and debate – ironically the very thing that they are encouraging universities themselves to uphold.